13 July 1793: Jean-Paul Marat dies at 50 after Charlotte Corday goes all Norman Bates on him. Although Marat thereby became seen as a hero for the sans-culottes and a martyr to the revolutionary cause, in fact he was a bloodthirsty little cuss, with a legendary hatred of Girondins and a disregard for what we might nowadays call ‘due process.’ Carlyle, in his brilliant, excoriating book on the French Revolution (1837), described his assassination in the following pitiless and sneering manner, redolent of Virgil but with added acrimony:
“It is yellow July evening, we say, the thirteenth of the month – eve of the Bastille day, – when ‘M. Marat,’ four years ago, in the crowd of the Pont Neuf, shrewdly required of that Bensenval Hussar-party, which had such friendly dispositions, “to dismount, and give up their arms, then;” and became notable among Patriot men. Four years: what a road he has travelled; – and sits now about half-past seven of the clock, stewing in slipper-bath; sore afflicted ; ill of Revolution Fever, – of what other malady this History had rather not name. Excessively sick and worn, poor man: with precisely eleven-pence-halfpenny of ready money, in paper; with slipper-bath; strong three-footed stool for writing on, the while; and a squalid – Washerwoman, one may call her : that is his civic establishment in Medical-School Street; thither and not elsewither has his road led him…Hark, a rap again! A musical woman’s voice, refusing to be rejected: it is the Citoyenne who would do France a service. Marat, recognising from within, cries, Admit her. Charlotte Corday is admitted.
Citoyen Marat, I am from Caen the seat of rebellion, and wished to speak with you. – Be seated, mon enfant. Now what are the Traitors doing at Caen? What Deputies are at Caen? – Charlotte names some Deputies. “Their heads shall fall within a fortnight,” croaks the eager People’s-friend, clutching his tablets to write: Barbaroux, Pètion, writes he with bare shrunk arm, turning aside in the bath: Pètion, and Louvet, and – Charlotte has drawn her knife from the sheath; plunges it, with one sure stroke, into the writer’s heart…The helpful Washerwoman running in, there is no Friend of the People, or Friend of the Washerwoman left; but his life with a groan gushes out, indignant, to the shades below.”
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